As more robots enter workspaces with humans, making sure robots can perform their tasks quicker, more accurately, safely, and smoothly continues to challenge robotics components makers to innovate.
Advances in servo drive technology are providing robotics companies, especially small and midsize firms, with a better footprint, efficiency, and safety within the motion-control space, according to Brian Mason, a regional sales manager at Elmo Motion Control.
Robotics Business Review recently spoke with Mason about his session on how servo drive innovations are making robots smarter and enabling new applications.
Q: Why is precise, smooth, and safe motion a requirement these days for robots?
Mason: In today’s era of smart factories, the barrier between human and machine has fully been breached. We are seeing collaborative robots, unmanned and autonomous robots driving around freely in a factory, and flexible manufacturing systems where complete workstations move around the factory. These kind of technologies clearly require safe operation around humans and other similar technologies.
In terms of motion smoothness, this has to do with the type of load and tasks that these robots are dealing with. Carrying everything from cars, to wafers, or even missile heads, mobile robots are tasked with the well-being of their loads.
Q: What developments have occurred in the past few years to enable smoother motion?
Mason: Advances in multi-axis motion control are allowing for better synchronized motion. It could be improved blending of two different motions, or the improved networking speed allowing for shorter cycle times between the servo drive and master controller.
For example, Elmo’s Platinum Maestro multi-axis EtherCAT controller is rich with motion algorithms, allowing for smooth blending and transitions of motions — according to PLCopen — while EtherCAT cycle times can go down to as low as 100us for eight synchronized axes.
Q: How does advanced servo technology go beyond just facilitating motion?
Mason: Servo drives today do a lot more than just closing loops. The role of a servo is essential to facilitate safer machinery, determine machine footprint, and allow for better machine performance.
The biggest issue surrounding servo technology today is safety. The shift of safety responsibility towards servo drives is hugely advantageous for machine builders. Relying on the servo for safety critical functions (functional safety) can lead to increased system simplicity, reduced hardware, costs, and time to market.
Q: What can a small or midsize robotics company, or businesses considering adding automation to their own factories, do to stay competitive against larger automation companies?
Mason: We are seeing a lot of small to midsize companies entering the realm of robotics, creating innovative technologies for medical, consumer, and industrial industries.
Unlike the large robotic manufacturers, these smaller companies do not have specific servo divisions, feedback divisions, or control divisions. They rely on the motion technology manufacturers to not only provide them with products, but also with tools for simplified implementation of motion, and ways to reduce time to market.
For small robotics manufacturers, turning to a servo manufacturer that can provide a full solution that goes beyond the technology itself is highly advantageous.
Q: What are the top areas where motion advances will help create more applications, such as AGVs, cobots, health/medical robots, or pick-and-place robots? What industries will likely benefit from benefit from smoother motion?
Mason: Any electronic production or inspection type machine will always benefit from smoother, more stable motion, which in turn results in faster scanning, imaging, and overall inspection throughput. Smooth, fast, and accurate motion around bends is also very advantageous for any laser cutting, or fluid-dispensing applications.
Lastly, robotic applications with several degrees of freedom are continuously aiming for better multi-axis smoothness, which is a direct result of proper implementation of the robot kinematics, as well as short communication cycle times.
Q: What innovation does Elmo bring to the world of automation?
Mason: Servo control has always been a critical component in the world of automation. Elmo’s innovations to servo drives allow manufacturers to get a lot more from a drive than just driving a motor.
Aside from being packed with lots of servo and motion algorithms, Elmo has set unprecedented records for power density. With an immense amount of power out of ultra-compact drives, machine footprint can be reduced significantly and cables can be reduced.
Q: How does Elmo provide a competitive edge in its offerings?
Mason: Elmo is first and foremost about applications where motion really matters. With 30 years of innovation in servo technology, we focus on projects where performance is of the essence. Our technology is known for getting the most out of a machine’s existing mechanics. We often find ourselves achieving higher speeds, better accuracies, and higher throughputs from machines, that were thought of as maxed out due to mechanical limits.
Aside from servo performance and motion intelligence, Elmo is also known for its unprecedented power density. We manufacturer ultra-small servo drives with immense amount of power, currents up to 650A, and voltages up to 900V, which fits in the palm of your hand.
Q: What do you expect people leaving your RoboBusiness session?
Mason: Those attending the sessions will not only get to learn about our technology, but also see the values of implementing Elmo within today’s robotic technology: intelligent motion, simple implementation, green and efficient automation, and safe collaboration.